A beginner’s guide to bush fashion


Polly comes to the conclusion that although bush wardrobes owe nothing to fashion, friendships are more desirable than clothes
Issue #59 January/February 2015

For about four to six months of the Far North year, socks become a gloriously distant memory as winter mud bakes hard under summer skies and gumboots are traded for jandals. Out on the coast, settlements boom as holiday-makers congregate with their boats and beach towels while inland, plumes of dust trail cars on country roads and the verdant kikuyu grass accelerates its growth, smothering everything in its path under a tangled mat of green.
Occasionally, day trippers come out to explore our valleys. Instantly recognizable by their cars, shinier and sleeker than local models, and their ironed and coiffured appearances, they remind us ex-city dwellers of what we’ve become: rumpty country bumpkins.
Stored away in plastic containers behind the wood pile lies an entire wardrobe from a former life. When James and I first shifted onto the land, I used to occasionally put on the designer dresses and jackets, mourning times when there were occasions for dressing up. These days the clothes aren’t even aired. For muddy reasons, brown is our new black and dressing down suits our lifestyle more, especially given that our stream-fed washing machine spurts a rash of silt across the laundry every 10th or so wash and the moths I’ve been encouraging three-year-old Vita not to kill have repaid my kindness by feasting on our garments.

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Having dropped in on our friend Donna the other day, she gave a sudden shout of laughter as she assessed our collective garb. She was in polka dotted pyjama pants converted to gardening day wear, I was in my father’s old bush shirt and a pair of home-made trousers in need of retirement and James sported orange yoga pants and chainsaw boots while Vita, who is going through a phase of wanting to simultaneously wear as many dresses as she can, looked uncomfortably hot and rotund.
Bush fashion dictates that anything goes and nobody cares how you look. At best this is both liberating and encouraging of creativity. At worst, it is better ignored. One sort-of neighbour has revealed himself to be the king of under-dressing, getting about in a cape and nothing more. At the other end of the spectrum, James, kissing goodbye to his former work wardrobe, went through a time of looking remarkably overdressed as he gleefully sacrificed business shirts and pin-striped pants to the rigours of mud-brick making.
The reigning House of Fashion in our parts is the Bush Fairy Dairy, whose front porch hosts an open-all-hours clothes exchange that’s worth a sporadic rummage. For James and me, though, the weather has become our main consideration when assembling an outfit and dressing in summer usually takes a matter of seconds.
It’s not that we don’t care how we look, but life on the land is busily messy and with the mirror tucked away behind an obstacle course of furniture, days can pass before we remember to confront ourselves. When we do, the action is sometimes accompanied by a disappointed cry, but the only time I’ve felt real dismay at how rumpty I’ve become is when I took a trip to Nelson and didn’t think to pack any footwear other than gumboots and jandals.
While less time is spent on appearances these days, I’ve learned to value friendships more than I used to. In terms of population, there’s a reduced gene pool up here into which we can dip for camaraderie and yet I’ve been delighted at the number of locals I’ve met whom I genuinely like. With so many valleys between houses, loneliness and isolation have the potential to loom large in rural life, but instead James and I have entered a caring community of which we feel lucky to be part. The fabric binding us up here may not be cut to a fashionable cloth but it is warm and colourful and can be surprisingly tightly knit when needed.

In the next post, Polly and James curse the sou’wester as a new phase of building begins.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.

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